Putin Hosts Lukashenko Amid Western Outcry Over Plane
Faizan Hashmi 2 months ago Sat 29th May 2021 | 09:00 AM
Moscow, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 29th May, 2021 ) :President Vladimir Putin praised Russia's close ties with Belarus on Friday as he hosted strongman Alexander Lukashenko amid a global outcry following the forced diversion of a European plane.
Observers closely watched the talks to see how far the Kremlin would go to support Lukashenko's regime after Belarus scrambled a military jet to divert a Ryanair plane and arrest an opposition journalist onboard last Sunday.
Following the Ryanair plane's forced diversion, the European Union urged EU-based carriers to avoid Belarusian airspace and promised fresh sanctions against Lukashenko and regime officials.
Putin said he was "very glad" to see Lukashenko and the two should go for a swim.
In carefully worded remarks in front of reporters, Putin also said that when then-Bolivian President Evo Morales's plane was grounded in 2013 there was little Western outcry.
"The president was led out of the plane, and nothing, silence," Putin said at the start of the talks.
Lukashenko complained the West was seeking to stir unrest in Belarus.
"It's clear what these Western friends want from us." The Belarus strongman, who arrived with a briefcase, said he wanted to show Putin "some documents" related to the Ryanair incident and thanked him for his support in the latest standoff with the West.
The talks lasted for more than five hours but their results were not announced.
The two leaders praised growing bilateral cooperation.
"We've been building the Union State," Putin told Lukashenko.
"We are confidently moving in that direction, that work is already bringing concrete results to our citizens." Russia and Belarus have formed a "union state" that links their economies and militaries but the Kremlin has been pushing for a closer integration.
But after the Ryanair plane incident Lukashenko's options appear to be limited.
Sunday's flight diversion was a dramatic escalation, with EU leaders accusing Minsk of essentially hijacking a European flight to arrest 26-year-old opposition journalist and activist Roman Protasevich.
- 'Technical reasons' - The overflight ban has led to several cancellations of flights between Russia and Europe, after Russian authorities rejected flight plans that would have skipped Belarusian airspace.
Moscow hit out at the flight ban as politically motivated and dangerous.
"What the West has done... for political reasons is completely irresponsible and endangers the safety of passengers," said Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
- 'Have to be braver' - The Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council announced Thursday it was launching an investigation.
Borrell has said proposals are "on the table" to target key sectors of the Belarusian economy including its oil products and potash sectors.
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Friday warned Lukashenko that "it is time to change course." "No amount of repression, brutality or coercion will bring any legitimacy to your authoritarian regime," she said.